From Morality to Equality: Labor’'s Sexuality Conundrum

21 Pages Posted: 22 May 2014 Last revised: 29 Aug 2014

Date Written: August 29, 2014


This paper analyses Australian federal Labor governments' changing policies on same-sex issues, with a particular focus on the period from the Whitlam government on. It traces how policy conceptions changed as Labor governments moved beyond arguments about sexual morality and criminality to engage with arguments about equality. In the process, Labor reforms that removed discrimination against gays and lesbians increasingly challenged heteronormative conceptions of citizenship rights and entitlements that had their origins in older citizenship models based around a male-breadwinner/head of (a heterosexual) family. However, pursuing same-sex equality issues remained contentious for some Labor politicians who argued that same-sex rights were actually an 'elite' issue that alienated traditional Labor voters. Indeed, the granting of a conscience vote on same-sex marriage reflects those ongoing tensions and dilemmas, including the continuing influence of earlier views that same-sex issues are a morality issue rather than an equality issue.

Keywords: Australia, Labor, same-sex, marriage, equality, sexuality, Rudd, Gillard, homosexual, politics

Suggested Citation

Johnson, Carol A, From Morality to Equality: Labor’'s Sexuality Conundrum (August 29, 2014). The Australian Political Studies Association Annual Conference, University of Sydney Paper​, Available at SSRN: or

Carol A Johnson (Contact Author)

University of Adelaide ( email )

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